Friday, April 29, 2011

"Civil Writes" for the Preserving Our Civil Rights Campaign

Last Saturday, April 23rd, ten volunteers from the American Friends Service Committee and the Bill of Rights Defense Committee invited Northampton residents to participate in “Civil Writes.” “Civil Writes” is a project of the Preserving Our Civil Rights Campaign. Participants were able to artistically express what civil rights means to each of them, as well as signing postcards to their city councilors on behalf of the Campaign. Over the course of the day, visitors to the Northampton Farmer’s Market participated, creating dozens of original works of civil-rights-positive art and signing over 100 postcards. Among those working the table there was much laughter and bonding over bagels, coffee, tasty free samples, and fabulous live bluegrass music.

We’ll be tabling on May 1st outside First Churches from 11AM-1PM. Join us to spread the campaign message and make your voice heard! For more information contact

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Community Forum: Preserving Our Civil RIghts Campaign

On Wednesday, May 23rd, 80 people gathered for a Community Forum for the Preserving Our Civil Rights Campaign.

Speakers included Falguni Sheth, professor at Hampshire College; Jasmin Torrejon from the Committee for Justice for Jason; Hazel Dardano, community activist with ADP; Rich Hernandez from the Northampton Human Rights Commission, and Bill Newman from the ACLU of Massachusetts.

Panelist and participants alike shared ideas and a commitment to fighting to preserve and restore civil rights of everyone who lives and works in Northampton.

The Preserving Our Civil Rights Campaign (PCR) is a Northampton based campaign to protect residents’ 4th amendment rights to freedom from unwarranted surveillance, to protect the rights of immigrants in our communities by opting out of unjust federal policies, and to increase accountability and transparency about profiling of individuals based on race, gender, or religion.

To get involved with the campaign contact

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Prayer Vigil in Support of Immigration Reform

Reform Immigration for America Now
Prayer Vigil in Support of Immigration Reform
and the Dignity of Immigrants

Thursday August 27, 2009
6:00 pm
New Federal Building
300 State Street
Springfield, MA

For more information contact

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Obama Accused of Continuing Bush's Racial Profiling of Immigrants

By Roberto Lovato, AlterNet. Posted July 29, 2009.

Can a president who is, by any measure, far more forthright and lyrical than his predecessors about the pernicious effects of racism simultaneously promote and expand the racist policies of past administrations?

This is the question vexing many in immigrants rights, Latino, civil rights and other circles following what feels to them like the contradictory messages about racial profiling coming from the Obama administration in recent weeks.

On the one hand, many observers applauded Obama's July 15 speech to the NAACP convention and last week's statements about the circumstances surrounding the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Some found reassurance in statements like the one Obama made about the Gates incident last week: "…what we know separate and apart from this incident is that there is a long history in this country of African Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately. And that's just a fact."

But when they heard the crushing sound of new reports documenting the effects of the Obama administration's treatment of immigrants, the president's Martin Luther King-like cadences on racial profiling rang hollow.

A recently released report by Syracuse University concluded that "immigration enforcement under the Obama administration is returning to the unusually high levels that were reached under President Bush." Critics say that thousands of immigrants -- and hundreds of U.S. citizens -- continue to be prosecuted, jailed and deported by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, in no small part because of racial profiling.

That was the case of Brian Lyttle. In one of the hundreds of cases involving U.S. citizens, Lyttle, 31, a North Carolinian who has no Mexican ancestry, speaks no Spanish and suffers from mental illness, was deported by ICE to Mexico in April.

Another damning report released last week by the Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University analyzed the immigration raids of homes and workplaces conducted by ICE.

According to the report, the raids, which have continued under the Obama administration, have resulted in the kinds of constitutional violations and routine racial profiling exemplified most clearly by the fact that "approximately 90 percent of the collateral arrest records reviewed, where ICE officers did not note any basis for seizing and questioning the individual, were of Latino men and women -- although Latinos represented only 66 percent of target arrests."

Both citizens and non-citizens have been arrested for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or what ICE calls "collateral arrests" -- arrests of people who are with or near someone who was ICE's original "target."

Virtually all advocates agree that the legal and policy foundations for such practices were laid by both the Clinton and Bush administrations. The result has been the creation of what legal scholar Juliet Stumpf calls the "crimmigration" system.

Stumpf and others continue to decry an immigration system that, they believe, leads to the disproportionate profiling and incarceration (Latinos are now the largest group in federal prisons) of mostly poor immigrants in much the same way that harsh drug laws have led to the disproportionate profiling of blacks, Latinos and other poor people that help make the United States home to the world's most massive prison system.

Coming from the Obama administration, one that created great expectations of change, the continuation and expansion of programs that systematically violate rights are beginning to wear thin the goodwill of immigrant defenders like Maria Muentes of the New York-based Families for Freedom.

"The nice speeches on race clash with the fact immigration enforcement is actually up under Obama; the levels of those incarcerated for immigration-related offenses look like they did during the Bush administration," said Muentes, whose organization advocates on behalf of detained immigrants. "Obama's speeches on racial profiling seem to leave out a lot of people. They exclude many immigrants, people for whom every aspect of their life is subject to racial profiling; people who are stopped while riding trains, people persecuted at work, people stopped while driving and all those families whose homes are terrorized by raids."

Most disturbing to Muentes and other immigrants-rights and Latino activists, many of whom have been ardent Obama supporters, was a very low-key announcement made on a late Friday afternoon just days after the president's NAACP speech on racial profiling by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano that the Obama administration would not just continue, but actually expand what advocates say is one of the fastest-growing, most troubling racial-profiling programs of the federal government, the 287(g) program.

The initiative, which essentially deputizes state and local law enforcement officials to act as enforcers of federal immigration law, has been strongly criticized by the Government Accountability Office and research institutes such as Justice Strategies, which concluded that the Bush-era program is "driven more by racial animus than by concerns about public safety."

Among the most demoralizing and irksome consequences of Obama administration's expansion of 287(g) is that the controversial program's greatest benefactor, Arizona's Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, still has a federally sanctioned license to pursue and jail massive numbers of mostly Latino immigrants, as well as some citizens.

Many law-enforcement officials have also denounced 287(g) because it diverts policing resources from more traditional law enforcement functions. In 2008, the Arizona Department of Public Safety, noting that while Arpaio's department was focused almost obsessively on locking up unauthorized immigrants, 48,000 violent felons were at large in Maricopa County, moved to block a grant that helped fund the sheriff's efforts.

More recently, anger at Obama's expansion of 287(g) sparked an unprecedented and very direct denunciation by immigrant advocates from across the country, many of whom hadn't previously criticized the administration. A "Statement Condemning Obama administration's Expansion of DHS's failed 287(g) Program" was signed by more than 25 groups from across the country, including the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Immigration Law Center and the Detention Watch Network.

Like many in the immigrants' rights community who have generally been supportive of the Obama administration, Jacqueline Esposito of the Detention Watch Network, one of the groups issuing the strongly worded statement, finds her organization caught in the conflict between the spirit and the letter of policies promoting racial profiling.

"Detention Watch Network applauds the Obama administration's recent statements about racial profiling," said Esposito. "But we are concerned, because the Department of Homeland Security's expansion of the 287(g) program is a direct contravention of the president's statements. 287(g) has been widely criticized by government officials, immigrant-rights advocates and many others, for undermining community safety and for racial profiling."

For her part, Muentes fears that when it comes to racial profiling, Obama's historic presidency may end up engendering hypocrisy of historic new proportions.

"Some people thought that because he (Obama) is African American, it automatically means he will be more aware or critical of racial profiling against immigrants or others in the larger criminal justice system", she continued. "That might not be the case."

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Immigrant Detainee Rights are Routinely, Systematically Violated, New Report Finds

"A Broken System" is based on 18,000 Pages of Previously Confidential ICE, ABA, and UNHCR Reviews of Detention Centers

LOS ANGELES - Denied access to loved ones, lawyers and basic necessities, the fundamental rights of the men and women within the nation's immigration detention system are routinely and systematically violated, according to a new report released today by the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), the ACLU of Southern California, and the international law firm of Holland & Knight, LLP. The first nationwide comprehensive report of its kind, "A Broken System: Confidential Reports Reveal Failures in U.S. Detention Centers," sheds new light on the conditions suffered by hundreds of thousands of people housed in detention centers around the country, and offers policymakers specific recommendations to ameliorate the situation.

"Though the detainees are accused of civil immigration charges, there is nothing civil about our detention centers," said Karen Tumlin, co-author of the report and a staff attorney at NILC. "These centers, where people are detained for months and often years at a time, often fail to provide people with their fundamental rights: access to loved ones, the basic materials needed to research and prepare their cases, or even a simple explanation of their rights while within the immigrant detention system.

Added Linton Joaquin, co-author and general counsel at NILC, "The government's own standards for immigration detention are routinely violated. Such a flagrant disregard for this country's values for fairness and justice on behalf of the United States government is appalling."

Though Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) claims to conduct a formal review of each detention facility on a yearly basis, "A Broken System" shows that such reviews carry little enforcement weight, as many of the detention facilities fail to rectify problems identified by ICE's own inspectors. Even more troubling, the inadequacy of the ICE reviews is demonstrated when they are compared with independent reviews by the American Bar Association (ABA) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) of the same facilities, which often found a greater number and more severe violations in detention centers than was reported by ICE.

For instance, the ABA and UNHCR reviewers found detainees were retaliated or punished more severely than allowed for minor disciplinary infractions. ICE reviewers, on the other hand, overlooked these serious violations.

Ranjana Natarajan, a report co-author and former ACLU/SC attorney said, "At every level, federal, state and local jails and prisons have legal and binding rules they must abide. But in immigration detention, the government refuses to adopt binding rules. The result is utter disregard for basic humane conditions. Because we don't have rules, we don't have accountability."

The findings from "A Broken System" are particularly timely, as they are released in the wake of a DHS decision to reject the long-standing request of NGOs and the ABA to promulgate regulations that would require immigration detention facilities to adhere to basic standards of care.

This agency statement responds to a petition for rulemaking submitted in January 2007 by dozens of immigrant detainees and advocacy groups in the wake of public reports detailing the humanitarian crisis in the facilities.

The report highlights the importance of having independent monitors of detention centers. In the Kenosha County Detention Center, for example, a UNHCR report found that while men were allowed two daily hours of recreation, women housed in the same facility were denied recreation rights. The following year, ICE inspectors rated that same facility "acceptable," despite the fact that women were still being denied access to recreation facilities.

"A Broken System" is based on an analysis of hundreds of ICE, ABA and UNHCR detention facility review reports from 2001 through 2005. The reports, which had been withheld from the public, were obtained through discovery in litigation. Although the report is the most comprehensive analysis of its kind, the government withheld a significant number of documents it was ordered to produce. As a result, the violations outlined in the report represent only a fraction of the number of violations that actually occurred but could not be documented.

Christopher Nugent, pro bono senior counsel at Holland & Knight, said, "Though this report provides the most complete picture the public has of this massive system, it is still a sketch. We can, however, determine even more definitively that the immigration detention centers routinely violate the government's own standards for immigration detention, and based on this information we have made specific policy recommendations to encourage those with the power to change the system to do so."

The recommendations put forth by the report are based upon thousands of hours of research and analysis of the detention center reviews. Key among them is the proposal that the ICE revise its standards for immigration detention to make them judicially enforceable. The report also determines that given the gross abuses, further expansion of the immigrant detention system should be stopped, and more use should be made of humane alternatives to detention.

The findings from "A Broken System" are particularly timely, as they are released in the wake of a DHS decision to reject the long-standing request of NGOs and the ABA to promulgate regulations that would require immigration detention facilities to adhere to basic standards of care.

This agency statement responds to a petition for rulemaking submitted in January 2007 by dozens of immigrant detainees and advocacy groups in the wake of public reports detailing the humanitarian crisis in the facilities. The name of the case involved in the petition is Families for Freedom v. Napolitano, No. 08-CIV-4056 (DC).

To read "A Broken System," go to